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Above-Average Jobless Rate In Washington State Refuses To Budge

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Washington State Department of Employment Security
Washington state's statewide unemployment rate has been stuck at 5.8 percent since last December.

Washington state's above-average unemployment rate hasn't budged since last December. For July, the state’s Department of Employment Security Wednesday again pegged it at 5.8 percent.

The statewide unemployment rate is stuck at a plateau nearly a point higher than the national rate and higher than all surrounding states. But other economic indicators paint the Northwest economy as solid.

So what gives?

"We still have people moving into the area I believe attracted by the tech jobs that have been blossoming,” state labor economist Paul Turek said. “You put that together with relatively moderate or slower job creation and we're just not getting enough to lower the unemployment rate."

In the greater Seattle metro area, the unemployment rate declined slightly in July to 4.4 percent from 4.6 percent in June.

“We have a split economy,” Turek said. "If we had a state that only consisted of areas west of the mountains, I think that we would see unemployment be a whole lot lower. It would be more like the Seattle area. To that extent we'd be beating the national rate."

The national unemployment rate held steady in July at 4.9 percent.

Turek observed that many private businesses “are still being cautious" about hiring, based perhaps on concern "about what the future may hold for the economy."

Oregon's statewide jobless rate held below 5 percent nearly all this year. Last month though it ticked up to 5.2 percent. Tuesday, Oregon's employment economist attributed the increase to rapid growth in the labor force that outpaced job creation.

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.